(Associated Press)

The Senate rejected S.940, or the “Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act,” in a 52-to-48 vote. Three Democrats – Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska) – joined nearly all Republican in voting against the measure, while two Republicans – Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) – voted “yes.”

Democrats had contended that the bill, which would have repealed $21 billion in tax subsidies for the top five oil companies over the next decade, represented a step toward addressing the country’s soaring deficit and rising gas prices. The White House issued an official statement of administration policy earlier Tuesday saying that it strongly backed the bill.

But even as Democratic leaders had been strongly pushing the measure, it was expected that the bill would fall short. That’s the case, too, with a separate energy-related measure that will be on the Senate floor Wednesday – a Republican-sponsored bill aimed at increasing domestic energy production.

The end result: the congressional debate over addressing rising gas prices will have little changed by week’s end.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) maintained Tuesday that the subsidy issue will continue to play a role in the debate over raising the debt ceiling. Asked what he expected to come from the vote on the Democratic measure, Reid told reporters that he expected that a final deal on the debt ceiling would include a repeal of tax subsidies for the top five oil companies.